The afterglow of the Christmas/New Year holiday season, for produce vendors in the Southwest, particularly Phoenix, is the annual influx of residents from Northern states seeking warmer winter climes.
The University of Arizona has estimated the number of Northerners spending winter months in Arizona at around 300,000 per year.
Regardless of their exact numbers, “snowbirds” bring money to spend, and produce wholesalers say they are eager to accommodate the visitors.
“Here in Phoenix, December through April is your busy season, as people arrive from the North,” said Randy Workman, general manager of Coosemans Phoenix LLC. “After that, the snowbirds leave, and there’s hardly anybody going to the resorts and restaurants.
The economic effects of the visitors cannot be overestimated, said Blair Hillman, owner of Phoenix-based wholesaler Kodiak Fresh Inc.
“It does increase starting about mid-November, when your area cools off, as the sun birds come to town,” he said. “Come June, July, August, September, we have a reduction because everybody is out of town.”
Some of the seasonal visitors don’t arrive until after the holidays, but when they do arrive, they make a splash in business, said Willie Itule, owner of Willie Itule Produce in Phoenix.
“Right after the first of the year, the snowbirds are definitely coming out, so we see an increase in business probably 15 to 20%, at least, so we wait for the snowbirds to come out, especially after the holidays,” he said.
Some Phoenix wholesalers note some visitors don’t wait until winter sets in back home.
“They usually start showing up the first real good storm back there,” said John W. New, president of Grand Avenue Produce, a Phoenix wholesaler. “It kind of starts the middle of October, but the big push you don’t see until after Christmas. The first of January to tax day is when you see the big, big numbers of snowbirds here.”
The recession that hit the Southwest area with particularly brutal force in 2008 affected the annual flow of visitors, some wholesalers noted.
“Arizona is a travel destination, especially during the wintertime, and there were less people traveling here during the last year or two,” said Rick Crispo, a partner in Phoenix-based Legend Distributing LLC. “During the recession, there were less people traveling here. We’re starting to see the hotels and resorts fill back up here, which is huge.”